Bruce Bartlett

Leading up to the election, many conservatives were wailing about how the world was going to come to an end if Democrats won. Well, the world is still here, and we are even starting to see some good news for conservative policies from the Democratic takeover.

The first good news was putative House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's screw-up in endorsing Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., as majority leader. Murtha is an old-fashioned pork-barrel politician with a spotty ethical record -- he was implicated in the ABSCAM investigation in the 1970s -- and a relatively conservative voting record. But lately, he has turned strongly against the Iraq War, which made him a hero to left-wingers like Pelosi.

Pelosi was known to support Murtha for the majority leader's post over the current No. 2 Democrat in the House, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., whom she personally dislikes. But Hoyer's skills as a fund-raiser and deal-maker made him a virtual shoo-in for the position, so everyone assumed that Pelosi would offer a token endorsement for Murtha, but not put her personal prestige on the line in what would surely be a losing effort.

To the astonishment of almost all political observers, Pelosi not only endorsed Murtha but did indeed put her prestige on the line, pushing hard for his election. So when Hoyer won by a two-to-one margin, it immediately knocked Pelosi down a notch and revealed her poor political judgment for all to see. Pelosi must now share the House leadership with a rival who owes her nothing and has every incentive to exploit her missteps.

Rather than learning from her mistake, Pelosi almost immediately embroiled herself in another controversy by announcing that Rep. Jane Harmon, D-Calif., whom she also dislikes, would not be appointed as chair of the House Intelligence Committee. By implication, Pelosi favored Rep. Alcee Hastings, a black Democrat from Florida.

The problem is that Hastings also has ethical baggage, having been removed from office as a federal judge in the 1980s for having allegedly accepted bribes. Under ordinary circumstances, anyone with this kind of record would be immediately rejected for a position giving him access to our nation's most critical national security secrets.

But Hastings has strong support from the Congressional Black Caucus, meaning that Pelosi will pay a political price if she passes him over for someone else. This is another no-win situation that could easily have been avoided, and further demonstrates that her political skills may be inadequate to her new position as speaker of the House.

Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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